Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner without a doubt was groundbreaking for its time, through its portrayal of the relationship shared between a white woman and a black man. What the film captured was the social codes that existed around race and relationship and the tension that existed for both blacks and whites. The movie plays out through the filmmaker’s perspective, which advocates for race equality but does not get to the heart of the problem. The movie attempts to transition away from a relationship between two racially different people to one that simply exists between a man and woman. One discussion between John Prentice and his father exemplifies this:[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtHGA6zlsnA[/youtube] The divide between the generations is a point that the film is emphasizes in the understanding of race. John and Joey both carried some hesitation about their marriage but the reaction that they receive from their parents shows a clear divide in their views of race. Filmmakers constantly juxtapose the Draytons’ and Prentice’s values against youth culture that created a distinction between new and old ways of viewing the world. The ability for the parents to adapt to these changes ultimately determines their approval and inclusion within the younger generations.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner addressed a taboo subject during the climax of cultural changes in America. However, it failed to dig deep and represent the true issues that were apart of race during the 1960’s. Debate over whether or not the Draytons’ will approve of their daughter’s marriage is at the heart of the movie yet the real reasons of why they are concerned never come up. Matt’s whole confusion is very vague and points to no real motive,which is a cover up to hide the racist tendencies of this progressive liberal. (Courtney 2005, 272-280) For a film that tries to evoke a sense of progression and equality, it most certainly fails in the representation of Tillie, the Drayton’s maid. Tillie easily falls into the category of a modern day mammy as her whole role in the movie is to serve the Drayton’s. Although she vocalizes her opinion, she is disregarded by her employers reinforcing a white control over the situation.(Courney 2005, 268-269) The idea of white male control is what moves the plot of the whole movie. Matt Drayton’s decision whether or not he will approve the marriage if the ultimate and final decision on the subject. As such his word is more powerful than the women in his life and a black man’s legal right to marry. A huge point that is just glossed over, simply through Matt never revealing any truly racial hesitations and ultimately approving the marriage.(Terry 1968)
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner attempted to portray the struggle that existed between races but ultimately failed in revealing the whole reality of it. For being such a daring topic to base an entire movie on, the filamkers were very cautious in their approach. From a white male deciding the ultimate fate of the couple to limiting the number of intimate scenes between Houghton and Poitier, the movie was designed to comfort whites into the idea of interracial marriage. (Romano 2003) The movie was told through the white perspective and ultimately glorified white acceptance of these new social codes but under the pretense of existing racial and gender hierarchies. Even how the black experience was portrayed is far from the reality of the time. With Matt Drayton so conflicted over his daughter engagement to a world renowned black doctor, only shows that his conflict was singularly based on his own internal racist judgments.(Romano 2003, 202-203) In addition, the experiences of John Prentice did not accurately represent black America at that time and at the same time created an almost white ideal for a black partner in this type of relationship. Ultimately the film touches on the prevalent topic of interracial marriage but refuses to delve into the deep racism that kept blacks socioeconomically separated from whites.
For all its flaws the film is and was a historically significant film that began discussion of social issues that before were swept under the rug. Although seemingly farfetched, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner depicts the beginnings of racial acceptance and equality on a national scale. The impact that the film had on viewers understanding of interracial love in undeniable and marks the point where mixed race relationships became a main component in the discussion of American.